Just a couple of weeks, and we won't hear any more arguments about whether we're in the 21st century and third millennium yet. According to the movie, we knew what life was supposed to be like in 2001. White-winged space planes going to space stations occupied by people with Russian accents - check. Pan Am - nope. Flights to Jupiter - well, if you count robots... Hairy people with long arms who throw things - check. Pet bushbabies - let us check under Christopher's bed. Computers with cameras networked everywhere that can eavesdrop and talk back to you - hmm, let us get back to you on that one when they're not listening...
When we left off, we were coming up on Christmas 1999. Sure hope Christopher and Nathan didn't get spoiled and have greater expectations every year. We did sneak in a trip to Nashville just before New Year's, heading back for the 31st. Not, you understand, that we had any but the greatest trust in Alabama Power and the ability of our computers to fend off any confusion. We also had to prepare for the Cub Scouts' father/son cake baking fundraiser. We thought for sure either Nathan's caramel football cake or Christopher's highly carnivorous dinosaur would get the prize, but someone with a better grasp of Southern culture came in with the road-kill possum, complete with a road stripe. And we actually bought that one at the auction.
A spring highlight was Christopher's 5th-grade class trip to Washington, D.C., with Terri as one of the chaperones. Any trip we didn't hear about on CNN was probably OK. They ran a nice graduation ceremony as the 5th-graders left for middle school, and with a, hmm, difference of opinion we had with one of the first-grade teachers, we were all happy to see the school year end. Some of her comments had us quite concerned, got the psychological and physical evaluations, he ended up in the gifted program. The child psychologist was Finnish, so Nathan got on her good side by drawing a picture of a soccer match including a Finnish team with flag and everything. After getting the results, we figure we know where the problem was (is the phrase spelled "nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah"?). Still, Bill says he couldn't help with handwriting. And that's probably for the best.
Christopher and a friend found a sick or injured Cooper's hawk (best we could tell...) in the back yard, and insisted on doing something about it. We ended up meeting someone from the animal rescue center in Birmingham to get it looked at. Any raptor with talons that long must have been ill not to have shredded Bill's hands right through the gloves. And then there was that gift he presented us with that left us wondering where to turn. What do you do with a bulging silk sac of Black Widow eggs?
Bill got 15 minutes of fame when the Hubble Heritage project took one of his favorite galaxies (two, actually) and made it the May release. What? You haven't seen it? Get thee to http://heritage.stsci.edu/public/2000may11/displayngc3314.html immediately. The picture is so striking that one composer is about to release a CD using this as the cover.
Christopher graduated into Boy Scouts this spring. Their first camping trip included whitewater rafting an the Nantahala River in North Carolina. Bill was the adult supervision on a raft with four boys (what's wrong with this picture?). Only one Scout went overboard. Twice. Yep, Christopher - he was doing some extreme rowing and it got out of hand. He picked Troop 7 because they camp out once a month. They all know him after that incident with the powdered Gatorade and the fire at the wilderness-survival camping trip. They also don't sell popcorn (though the Cub Scouts in Pack 8 still do - we might have a few packages left). The Boy Scouts raise money by parking cars for football games and peddling Christmas wreaths. That pays for summer camp, like the one last summer where Christopher earned the first few merit badges on the Eagle requirements. Not that we have high expectations or anything.
Terri and the boys were struck at the appearance of a car in May. Quite literally, as it plowed into the side of the van, so Terri and Christopher were carted off to the hospital, where Terri turned out to have three broken ribs. Where was Bill, you ask? He thought he was on top of the world (though it was really only the top of a 100-meter radio telescope) at a meeting in Germany. The conversation when he called from the airport in Charlotte on the way back was a little strange. "We're not picking you up at the airport, because the doctor says not to drive." "Because of the pain medication. Besides, the van's gone." "Oh, broken ribs." And so on. Even after eight hours in the air, his eyes were wide open and staring for that last flight into Birmingham. (Not to leave Terri alone in this, her mom was just hit at an intersection in Tucson, and drove home leaving car pieces all over the road). The official treatment for broken ribs these days seems to be saying "This will hurt like the dickens for a couple of months - take some of these". They sure got that right. A lot worse than the bruised ribs Bill got playing kickball with the boys over spring break (don't ask - it was humiliating enough at the doctor's office).
Nathan did his first Scout camp, and seemed to enjoy the water activities especially. He and Bill went off to Tucson in June, with Nathan staying at Grandma's house while Bill went observing (well, more literally, getting a little bit of data and taking his personal best lightning pictures). Christopher went to Scout camp during this trip, so that we were like the National Radio Astronomy Observatory - running four sites at once. Somebody taught Nathan to make sounds by blowing across empty beer bottles there, but nobody has fessed up yet. He got an object lesson in desert flora while biking around the park in Tucson, with a nasty thorn jumping into a tire. "Dad, what does it mean when the bike goes flup-flup-flup?" Meanwhile, back near Tuscaloosa, we were so pleased that Christopher noticed the snake in the water at camp was venomous just before grabbing it...
July saw us heading back to Arizona, for an attempted vacation up in the White Mountains at Greer. Southwest Airlines' Internet specials were obviously a big deal for us this year. The boys thought this trip was a really great idea, when we could haul them out of the pool long enough to talk about it. Christopher had three snakes in one hand within two hours of unpacking at Greer, and ended up smuggling one back to Tucson. They are not to be confused with Mac the anole, who got smuggled from Tuscaloosa and back. Mac spent five months with us, green when happy, brown when not being fed, and a natty khaki with a brown stripe down the spine when he was feeling particularly formal. He would eat houseflies when we were all fast enough. "Pay toilet" got a new definition when we took a pit stop at Hon-Dah, where the Apache operate a casino. Terri and her mom (Carol) took twenty dollars' worth of quarters in and waltzed out having multiplied them to a remarkable degree. Bill took some ill-gotten gains from textbook reviews to buy a secondhand computer-controlled telescope in time to take it up into the mountains. He says it's really cool, and now buys 8-packs of batteries at least once a month. Imagine the X-ray operators in the Phoenix airport trying to tell what was in his carry-on bag without actually asking him...
How was the summer in Tuscaloosa? Dry. Really dry. It might as well have been in southern California, especially the day the whole town was downwind of a big wildfire. We didn't even mow our grass this year, since over the summer we got behind on rainfall to the tune of twice as much as Tucson gets in a year. This was, naturally, when we picked to go try some paleodentistry, picking Cretaceous shark teeth out of a stream bed. At least it wasn't as bad as Birmingham, where they were asking people to turn in their neighbors for unauthorized car washing or grass watering. Our own water troubles were more along the lines of a toilet tank splitting open one Monday morning, such an old one that Bill spent lunch hours looking under the kudzu behind plumbers' workshops to find a replacement.
The end of the year sees Christopher bored silly by a music class, and preparing for a student-exchange trip to the UK next summer. Nathan is liking second grade much better, and so are we all. We've run out of space to talk about the stuffed keel-billed toucan in the office, or hiding by the men's underwear rack in Wal-Mart as the tornado passed, so we'll just wish all of you a blessed holiday season and a wonderful odyssey in 2001.
Terri, Bill, Christopher, and Nathan